Atoll lagoon flushing forced by waves
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Water level and current measurements from two virtually enclosed South Pacific atolls, Manihiki and Rakahanga, support a new lagoon flushing mechanism which is driven by waves and modulated by the ocean tide for virtually enclosed atolls. This is evident because the lagoon water level remains above the ocean at all tidal phases (i.e., ruling out tidal flushing) and because the average lagoon water level rises significantly during periods with large waves. Hence, we develop a model by which the lagoons are flushed by waves pumping of ocean water into the lagoon and gravity draining water from the lagoon over the reef rim. That is, the waves on the exposed side push water into the lagoon during most of the tidal cycle while water leaves the lagoon on the protected side for most of the tidal cycle. This wave-driven through flow flushing is shown to be more efficient than alternating tidal flushing with respect to water renewal. Improved water quality should therefore be sought through enhancement of the natural wave pumping rather than by blasting deep channels which would change the system to an alternating tide-driven one.